Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh and opposition leaders signed a long-awaited agreement Wednesday to transfer power to the country's vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and hold early presidential elections. The agreement could end months of protests against his 33-year rule.
Mr. Saleh and the opposition signed the agreement during a ceremony in Saudi Arabia. Saudi King Abdullah said that a new page in Yemen's history has been turned. He urged the Yemeni politicians to work to bring peace to their strife-torn country.
Mr. Saleh said his government welcomes the partnership with what he called “brothers in the opposition” to rebuild and reconstruct Yemen. He said he regrets the bloodshed during the 10-month popular uprising to overthrow him, but claimed the turmoil was the result of outside forces that have been pushing their own agenda in the Arab world.
The accord was a victory for the Gulf Cooperation Council which crafted the document and worked patiently to broker it. GCC Secretary-General Abdel Latif Zayani called the signing “historic.”
However, the agreement has not satisfied anti-government demonstrators in Yemen. After the document was signed, protesters gathered in the capital, Sana'a, to voice their displeasure with a provision that gives Mr. Saleh immunity from prosecution. Also, some called for his immediate departure.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday that, after the signing ceremony, Mr. Saleh planned to travel to New York to continue medical treatment for burns and other injuries suffered during a bomb attack at the presidential compound in June.
Yemeni opposition activists have been holding mass protests since January demanding an immediate end to Mr. Saleh's autocratic rule.
Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands more wounded during a government crackdown on the protests and fighting between pro-Saleh troops and opposition militiamen.
Al-Qaida-linked militants have seized control of several parts of southern Yemen as the government has struggled to contain unrest in other regions.